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Building advice

A building expert shares his tips

Whether you’re renovating a room or your whole home, we’ve asked a building expert’s advice on how to get the best results.

Whether it’s more space for the kids or your dream kitchen, experts say one of the best ways to add value to your home is to build an extension.

But before work can begin, you’ll need to find a trusted builder who’ll ensure your extension goes smoothly. We’ve asked David Tilbury, Managing Director of London Builders1, to lift the lid on the trade and give us his expert tips.

 

How do I know a builder is qualified to do the job?

“There are a number of checks you can make," says David. "The best place to start is the Federation of Master Builders. All its members are professionally vetted and independently inspected on joining. You can also check your builder’s standard of work based on the experiences of previous clients. A good builder will be able to show you testimonials or even take you to visit past jobs. Another place to start is referrals from friends and neighbours.”

 

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How do I know a builder is good value for money?

“The industry has a tendency to give ballpark figures for a project, but this is nonsense as each job is different. My advice is to get two or three quotes minimum, making sure you talk to like-for-like builders in terms of the size of the firm. Make sure your quote is very detailed, even down to the cost of a temporary toilet if you don’t want builders using your bathroom.”

You can also check out the RICS Building Cost Information Service to find out how much works should cost, to help you budget.

 

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If I have a builder, do I need an architect?

“You don’t always need an architect. It depends on the job. Bear in mind that, for an extension, a builder must have architectural drawings to know what goes where. An architect can help you get through regulatory requirements as well – plans for major renovations usually have to be approved by the council2. If you do choose to use an architect, don’t forget to add on their fees, which are usually separate. Some bigger firms give you an ‘all in one’ package that includes a project manager who deals with the architect.”

If you decide to embark on a renovation project without an architect, the HomeOwners Alliance, a consumer body that supports the interests of Britain’s homeowners, has some useful tips for managing the process yourself.

 

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What can I do to ensure a builder sticks to the budget?

“All good builders will have a payment plan and a project schedule, which are probably linked. Payment is required once each phase is signed off. The phasing and planning should be agreed with the client before the job starts. Remember, there’s also a deposit to be paid when the contract is signed. Materials are paid for once there’s commitment to the job, and then the project can flow. Don’t forget, also, that the quote will usually be excluding VAT, so you may need to add VAT on to the bottom figure. The size of the deposit will depend on the job.”

A good rule of thumb is never to hand over large sums of money up front, no matter how good the reviews are.

 

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Will a builder tell me if my project isn’t going according to plan?

“There’s no such thing as a job that doesn’t go wrong – but a good builder should keep you in the loop if issues arise. Communication should be excellent if a client is on-site, but if you’re away from the build, you need to be available over the phone or by email to make decisions.”

 

How can I make sure a builder finishes the project?

“Good builders will have a retention fee, which allows clients to hold between 2.5 and 5% of the cost of the full job for three or four months. This is to ensure defects, such as cracks that show up later during settlement, can be fixed. A retention fee shows that the builder is putting their money where their mouth is. Other things, like snagging (inspecting for minor problems, such as a scratch on the door) will be covered as par for the course in the contract.”

No builder likes to walk away from a job. However, if the relationship with the client breaks down irretrievably, they could decide to cut their losses. If there’s a contract in the form of a quote or a Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) contract, it’s legally binding and you can take a builder to court if they break it. Equally, if a client stops or cancels a job, the builder has the right to do the same. The Royal Institute of British Architects has a number of guides on JCTs.

 

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How can I make sure a builder stays focused on my job, and doesn’t take on other work?

“With smaller companies, there’s always the possibility that they may have to address a problem at another job and will have to leave yours to do it. The main thing is to keep communicating. After all, if it was your job facing a crisis, you’d want them to make that a priority.”

 

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Is it really that hard to make the changes I’ve asked for?

“It’s okay to change your mind on the ‘second fix’, which is all the work that follows plastering towards the end of the build. It happens. But, generally, you want to avoid making changes. If there’s a project plan, you’ll have seen and agreed to the materials and samples in advance, so you shouldn’t want to change things. If you do, make sure any new work is requoted and agreed.”

 

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How can I avoid upsetting my neighbours? 

“A responsible builder will send letters out to your neighbours to say that work is starting and roughly at what times. The main issues are usually parking and shared access. The last thing you want is builders putting up scaffolding at 8am, preventing your neighbours from getting to work.”

Under the Control of Pollution Act 1974, local authorities can limit when work that can be heard outside the site boundary can start and finish. Noisy hours vary depending on the council, but are usually 8am-6pm Monday-Friday, 8am-1pm Saturday and not on a Sunday. 

 

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What makes a great client from your perspective?

“A client who knows what they want and pays on time is always very helpful. We also want a client who understands good value for money in construction (rather than going for the cheapest quote), and that things don’t always go to plan. They should be available and flexible, and respond promptly when we need to talk to them.”

 

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Funding your building project

One way to finance larger home improvements is by borrowing against your home. Find out about our mortgage options – or, if you already have a mortgage with us, you can apply to borrow more. Alternatively, consider a home improvement loan.

Before any work begins, also make sure you have the right cover in place. You should protect your home and what’s in it with building and contents insurance and notify your insurer of your renovations.

And don't forget you can get cashback paid into your Barclays account when shopping online and in-store at a range of retailers, including B&Q (terms, conditions and retailer exclusions apply). Plus, if you’ve switched on Barclays Blue Rewards, you get an extra 1% cashback3.

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